Seven Critical Marketing Skills: #2 Intuition and the Ability to React

Sycamore and Company has identified the Seven Critical Skills which separate successful marketing executives from the rest of the pack. This post focuses on critical skill #2: Intuition and the Ability to React.

About Our Seven Critical Marketing Skills Series

Critical Marketing Skill #2:  Intuition and the Ability to React

My last post discussed the first attribute -- Strategic Vision. Once the vision is set, our executives believe that the next critical skill is intuition; the ability to wade through the available information and pull out a gem of an idea. While intuition and the ability to react have been important in the past as well, the rate and pace of the market, as well as the vast amounts of information now available for even the smallest decisions, have made these skills much more important.

"...the world has become so complex and there's so much information out there… that I think if you try to sift through everything in a really methodical way, you may not get to the answer. You are most likely to be successful when indeed you can look at a situation, develop some hypotheses and then test those hypotheses."

“We are in a market now that is very fast paced. And, if you don’t have the intuition and ability to react and to accept changes that are always cropping up, then you aren’t going to be around very long. The laying out of a national plan, rolling it out and sitting back and smiling doesn’t occur these days.”

Relatedly, intuition is critical when there is no information, but there is still the pressure to act. Just because you don’t have access to market data or can’t get it on a timely basis, doesn’t allow you to sit back and wait. The challenge is to determine just how long you should wait… just how much information you should gather… before your jump. The other recognition is that too often the information you receive is historic… looking backwards.

"You get it 85% right the first time and go! You're better off than the guy who takes two or three or four times as long to get it 98% right."

"You have to bring some decisions to closure without complete analysis, complete data. And you have to react to a very fast paced marketplace... your vision and your process is pretty useless if you don't have judgment and the ability to turn on a dime."

“...the tough choices we don’t have the information for. The tough choices are about taking information and then predicting the future with it.”

As one executive pointed out, the higher you go in the organization, the more critical intuition becomes.

“I think this is true no matter where you are, but the higher up you are in an organization, the less factual things become and the more important the notion of intuition and judgment and being able to deal with incomplete information and the judgment of others becomes particularly critical. And what happens at (my company) is not only does that happen but the stakes go up, too. Because you’re making literally billion dollar decisions with less information than I used to make $10 million decisions (in packaged goods).”

Can You Train Intuition?

The quick answer is no. Intuition comes from inside. But given that this is the case, it becomes essential to help our junior people develop this capability, if they have it. We have to identify people with these skills early on then we need to reinforce their skills. This doesn’t mean abandoning rigorous analysis or training. It does mean that not all decisions can be made the same way.

It becomes important that we encourage rather than discourage intuition and risk taking. Even in the best-managed companies in the world, intuition has often been drummed out of our people with demands for more data and more analysis to prove their case. In a world where there will always be more data and less time, we are not likely to be able to fall back on analysis to make decisions. Too often it is the senior manager or executive who doesn’t have the capability to think intuitively that demands more and more information… often killing the instincts in the people on their team that do have the skill.

“One of the things I think clients do, companies do is make people scared to make those kinds of decisions... I think you can teach people to undo (intuition). To un-intuit and to overly analyze.”

"...the fact that the marketplace moves faster based on information and changes and emerging forms of communication that you have to be able to use instinct and have a certain intuition to make decisions... a lot of people are uncomfortable with ...because they've never even had the opportunity... there aren't a lot of companies that actually give people the opportunity to do that. Whereas in the future it's going to be demanded more. And the people who can do it will really stand out."

Ability to React

But, beyond having intuition, it is also valuable to be able to react quickly and decisively to changes in the marketplace. One executive told us that as soon as a plan was launched, he had his team looking at ways it needed to change… probing for weaknesses in the marketplace… watching for competitive and customer reactions and quickly researching reasons for their reactions to the product or service.

"It's very concerning when people take a well conceived plan for an end result and don't recognize over time that you've got to constantly steer the ship..."

“...any visionary needs to enough to change their mind and react to the market conditions that may not have been obvious at the time they were mapping out their strategy or their vision.”

“... the future doesn’t necessarily belong to the smart, it’s the smart and the quick. And maybe even greater emphasis on the quick...the ability to move fast, to implement change quickly, to go with more judgment...”

The fact is though that it is the presence of a clearly defined vision and strategy that allows a company to make quick responses in the marketplace because without that strategic reference point and framework, reactions are simply shots in the dark.

"You have to have an overriding strategy that gives you the context in which you react."